Twenty-five Manitobans are killed in car crashes linked to distracted driving on average every year, according to Manitoba Public Insurance.
Also, a driver is 23 times more likely to be in a collision if they are texting while behind the wheel.
"Texting and driving is … clearly one of the most dangerous (distractions) as your eyes are off that road for up to five to six seconds in some situations," said MPI spokesman Brian Smiley.
For those reasons, the Brandon Police Service is launching an enforcement blitz during April. The goal of the Selective Traffic Enforcement Program, which is a partnership between BPS and MPI, is to suppress and discourage the use of electronic devices while driving.
Staff Sgt. Randy Lewis said there will be 12 days in April during which officers will be running specific enforcement projects to target distracted driving.
"We’ll have enforcement projects that will include saturated patrols in unmarked vehicles," Lewis said.
There will also be "spotters," officers in civilian clothing placed in strategic locations.
"They will notify officers in the area of offenders who will then be stopped and ticketed," he said.
Lewis said talking on a cellphone and texting are two major contributors to accidents.
"We need to send a message out to the public that we are … always watching," he said. "They’re difficult to observe and enforce many times, so sometimes it takes special effort on our part, with our partner MPI, to get the message across that this is unacceptable behaviour."
Lewis said it’s dangerous to the public, to the driver and other motorists and pedestrians.
"It’s not a secret that we’re running (the program) … the more people that know, the better," Lewis said. "Our whole idea is to reduce the amount of distracted driving, and obviously public awareness is one part of it, but also the enforcement aspect has to come into play as well, because obviously education isn’t always enough."
A similar program was held in Brandon last November for two weeks. Between Nov. 11-24, police issued 143 tickets. About half of those tickets, 72, were issued for using a cellphone while driving. The rest were for various other offences, such as having no licence, no insurance or no seatbelt.
Many motorists won’t change their ways until they receive a ticket and deal with law enforcement, Smiley said.
"Changing driver behaviour is not an overnight process," Smiley said. "It involves sometimes, many years of education, awareness, and again the third component, law enforcement."
The fine for using a hand-held electronic device while driving is $203, and drivers also receive two demerits.
Manitoba RCMP spokesperson Tara Seel said in 2013, there were 655 charges for using a cellphone or other hand-operated electronic device while driving a vehicle. In 2012, that number was 616.
"We’re running about the same, which means that maybe the message still isn’t getting where it needs to be," she said.
Seel pointed out that distracted driving doesn’t always involve texting. It could be using a GPS, radio or any other distraction in the vehicle that takes your eyes off the road.
Most often in distracted driver collisions, a vehicle is rear-ended, often at highway speed because a driver is looking down.
Seel has some tips for drivers so they don’t get distracted behind the wheel.
"Know your route before you start driving, so pre-program your GPS or have your route memorized," she said. "Turn off the alerts on your phone so you’re not tempted because you hear that ding and everybody wants to know who’s trying to reach them."
Secure loose objects so they don’t roll around the vehicle, secure children/pets and provide them with everything they need, and preset seats, mirrors, climate controls and radio stations, "so you’re not poking buttons and rearranging yourself when you’re actually driving."
"The fact of the matter is good drivers just drive," Seel said. "It’s drivers who are distracted who become a danger on the road."
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